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After Surveilling Congressman, Intelligence Program Faces Investigation

April 16, 2009 - by Avelino Maestas

Congress will investigate a controversial intelligence-gathering program after officials within the National Security Agency said it may have overstepped its bounds in conducting electronic surveillance on Americans. According to a story first reported in the New York Times, officials with the Justice Department, along with NSA personnel, discovered the irregular activity during a regular review of the program.

DOJ staff discovered NSA had eavesdropped on domestic e-mails and telephone calls of Americans, though the surveillance is believed to have been done unintentionally. An example of the “overcollection” of information was the revelation that a member of Congress was spied on while overseas.

The problems, according to an NSA spokesman, are related to implementation of a new intelligence law passed last year. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 set new guidelines for electronic surveillance within the United States. The bill had three main provisions:

  • It made the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (of 1978) the exclusive standard for authorizing electronic surveillance.

  • It required a court order for the surveillance of any American who became a target for electronic surveillance, regardless of whether the person is in the U.S.

  • It required the FISA Court, a secret court established to conduct FISA oversight, to approve the removal of any American’s name that is inadvertently captured during electronic surveillance.

Personnel with the NSA and Justice said the program has been revised to comply with the law; they delayed a renewal of the program until those corrective steps were taken.

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